Firsthand accounts of Park Terrace Hotel fire, 1968

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Park Terrace Hotel on fire, 1968

After six decades in operation, the Park Terrace Hotel, a grand old edifice on the corner of Main and Orange Street in downtown Darlington, burned down on the day before Thanksgiving in 1968. There were a total of twenty-one guests at the time of the fire, and four of them were killed: Marion Butler, Keith Windham, Buck Shaw, and Mike Jamerson.  Below are firsthand accounts of the heroism fire and rescue squad members displayed in order to save lives; the quotes were originally published in The State and the Columbia Record on Sunday, December 1, 1968.

Fireman and rescue squad member Harry Sawyer, 28: “I could hear screams. ‘The flames are burning me up, get me out of here.’ Another yelled, from the fourth floor, ‘I’m gonna jump.’ Somebody got a ladder and got him down. Then somebody told me Mr. Butler (the hotel’s owner) was trapped on the first floor. Another fireman, I can’t remember who, said he would help me get Mr. Butler. . .This thing is something we were dreading. . . A lot of men put in a hell of a lot of hours on Wednesday and Thanksgiving to help us. . .They risked their lives to help us. I think we did a hell of a good job.”

Frank Wells, mayor of Darlington and a member of the rescue squad: “There’s no telling how many would have burned if it hadn’t been for them. . .It’s men like Jim Stone (a fireman) and Lyndal Gainey (Captain of the rescue squad) that did a great job. . .They didn’t slow down until they got those bodies. It makes you real proud to be a part of a town where people do these things unselfishly. ” 

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Black Creek Protection Association granted its charter

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Black Creek swimming hole circa 1950. In the 1940s and 1950s, pollution became a problem at Black Creek, eventually causing the bathing resorts and swimming holes to be closed permanently.

On July 1, 1941, the Black Creek Protection Association was granted its state charter.  Woods Dargan, a native of Darlington, had a deep and abiding love for Black Creek, and, according to the Commission’s archives, he was the driving force behind the organization of the Black Creek Protection Association. This organization’s mandate was “to maintain, through its officers, agents, and members, a perpetual watch over this stream and its surroundings and to prevent all present and future abuses of the same of any kind whatsoever; to restore said Black Creek to its original purity and beauty, to the end that it may always be, as it always was prior to its present pollution, a source of health, pleasure, and sport.”

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TODAY IN SOUTH CAROLINA HISTORY: The Patriot with Mel Gibson

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Francis Marion, the Swampfox

On June 30, 2000, The Patriot, a feature film starring Mel Gibson, is released in theaters. Mel Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, an American swept up in the Revolutionary War when a sadistic British officer murders Martin’s son.  The script writer Robert Rodat claims that Benjamin Martin is a composite character based on four different historical people, one of them being Francis Marion, the Swampfox who took command in the Pee Dee on August 10, 1780.

Much of the movie was filmed in York County, South Carolina, and although Time magazine labeled The Patriot one of the top 10 most historically inaccurate films in history, I rather enjoyed the movie.

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SPOTLIGHT ON: Rosenwald Consolidated School/Rosenwald High School

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Rosenwald School

Built in 1930, the Julius Rosenwald Consolidated School in Society Hill, South Carolina was a combined elementary and high school until 1953. The school was one of almost 500 in South Carolina partially funded by the Julius Rosenwald Foundation. Arthur A. Prince was the first principal of the school, which taught students in grades 1-10; grade 11 was added in 1939 and grade 12 in 1948. The school received accreditation after World War II and became Rosenwald High School. Despite being a high school, the school continued to educate elementary students until 1954 when Rosenwald Elementary School was built. The high school was closed in 1982.

The Julius Rosenwald Fund was established in 1915 to provide grants to African Americans for school construction. Rosenwald, the president of the Sears Roebuck Company, worked closely with Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama to develop the program.

Rosenwald focused his school construction efforts on those states with mandated racial segregation of its schools. Ultimately, 15 states participated in the school construction program. 500 Rosenwald-funded buildings were constructed in South Carolina.

Rosenwald required that all new school buildings be constructed along a specific set of plans developed by architects and educators at Tuskeegee. The Fund also required a match by the local school district and by the African American community.

The Rosenwald Fund schools marks the first time in South Carolina’s history that a consistent black school construction program occurred as the state was not committed to educating black children. As time passed, these schools fell into disrepair. In 1951, many of the students that attended Rosenwald Schools were consolidated into equalization schools and the old schools closed.

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Rosenwald School

 

 

 

German POWs in Darlington

Below is a lovely note written by Dorothy Law Martin in March 2011. It’s about German prisoners of war who worked on her father’s farm. 

My Dad, W.P. Law, had a large farm on the old Hartsville Road in Darlington County. During WWII my four older brothers were in the service and farm help was scarce. German war prisoners were in a prison camp at the Florence Air Base and were “rented out” to help on the farms. My recollection is that the cost was $3.00 per day, per prisoner. My Dad took our big truck to Florence each morning and picked up 24 prisoners, a guard, and the bread and water that the prisoners were allowed each day. However, my Mom said that they could not work on bread and water so, having a large garden year round, the prisoners fed lots of vegetables, fruits and sometimes beef and pork, which we also raised. There was a large table under the trees in the back yard where they ate, and the guard would “turn his back” when we fed them. They were mostly young fellows and only one of them spoke passable English so any communication was done through him.

They did field work, cleaned ditch banks, milked the cows, cut fire wood and many other things that needed doing on the farm. Dad would take them back to Florence in the evening. Mom found out that one of the prisoners, a handsome young man named Hans, had an aunt living in Chicago. Mom contacted her and she (Mrs. Below) came down and spent a week or so as a guest in our home. Hans was allowed to eat lunch at our table with his aunt and to spend lots of time visiting with her. Mrs. Below kept in touch with us for several years after the war was over the prisoners returned to Germany. One of the prisoners sent us, in 1948, a picture of his son who looked to be about 8 or 10 years old, a fine looking boy.

While they were working for us we had the feeling that none of the prisoners even thought of escaping and the guard must have felt the same because he spent much time sitting under the trees or on the porch, visiting and napping. They seemed healthy and happy to be where they were.

Someone once asked Mom why she treated them so well and Mom replied, “They aren’t responsible for this war, and if any of my four sons were captured I would hope that they would be treated as well.”

As a 13-14 year old I was never uneasy around these Germans and they treated me as a young sister. I hope that they all returned to German safely and had good lives.

Dorothy Law Martin

March 2011

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SPOTLIGHT ON: Jerusalem Baptist Church

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Jerusalem Baptist Church (photo by Bill Segars)

Jerusalem Baptist Church, located at 6th Street and Laurens Avenue in Hartsville, is one of the oldest African-American churches in Darlington County. Organized after the Civil War, its first church service was held in a brush arbor on Snake Branch, a creek near E. Carolina Avenue. Jerusalem’s first permanent church, a log building, was built at this location. In 1898, Jerusalem’s Trustees acquired the current site and built the present church in 1907. The congregation was chartered in 1908. The church, a frame building, was described as “a splendid achievement” when it was covered in brick veneer and rededicated in 1939. During the Great Depression, Jerusalem boasted a membership of more than 350 members. Reverend Henry H. Butler was the pastor until his death in 1932.

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SPOTLIGHT ON: Edmund H. Deas House

House Edmund H. Deas

Located at 229 Avenue E in Darlington, the Edmund H. Deas House was named after Edmund H. Deas, who moved to Darlington in 1870. Known as the “Duke of Darlington,” Deas was a very active Republican and served as the county chair of the South Carolina Republican Party in 1884 and 1888. He was delegated to the Republican National Conventions in 1888, 1896, 1900, and 1908. He lived in the home until his death in 1915.

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SPOTLIGHT ON: Senator Kay Patterson

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Senator Kay Patterson, native of Darlington County

Born in Darlington County on January 11, 1931, Kay Patterson represented the 19th District in the South Carolina Senate from 1985 until his retirement in 2008. Senator Patterson also served in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1975 through 1985. He was the first African-American to sit on the University of South Carolina’s Board of Trustees since Reconstruction.

Senator Patterson attended Claflin College and Allen University where he received an undergraduate degree in Social Studies. Senator Patterson also attended Temple University, NDEA Institute in Black History at Atlanta University and South Carolina State College, where he received his Masters in Education in 1971. Senator Patterson is active in his community and is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and Edisto Lodge No. 39 Prince-Hall Masons.

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SPOTLIGHT ON: Darlington & Liberty Theaters

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Book of movie stubs from Darlington and Liberty Theaters. Donated by Frank McKeel.

On April 22, 2015, Frank W. McKeel donated a thick book filled with hundreds of movie ticket stubs from the Darlington & Liberty Theaters. Inside the book, on the very first page, Mr. McKeel wrote a message to the Darlington County Historical Commission:

Please remember when!

Liberty Theater movie stubs

Because I got such a kick out of combing through decades of old ticket stubs, and grinning like a sweepstakes winner whenever I came across movies that I’d actually seen like Creatures from the Black Lagoon and Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,  I decided to honor Mr. McKeel’s request. Below is a condensed history of the Liberty Theater, taken, mostly, from a wonderful sketch written by Shaler T. Stanley, who worked in theaters, including the Liberty, continuously for more than forty years.

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Liberty Theater circa 1937. Left to right: unknown; unknown; unknown; Coke Brown; Mary Phillips Mills; Cleo Belissary; Shaler Stanley

Around 1915, Earl Baxter, then publisher of the News and Press, leased the Opera House in the Town Hall and called it Liberty Theater with the intention to show movies. According to Mr. Stanley’s article, the Liberty “was only a shell of a movie theatre,” but it did cut into profits for the other theater in town known as The Almo, where, at the time, Mr. Stanley was working.  Later, around 1919, George Hendrickson bought out Mr. Baxter, and two years later, Hendrickson gave the Liberty a new entrance and put a ticket booth in. Hendrickson ran the Liberty until 1927 or 1928 and then sold out to Lester Sipe, but Sipe couldn’t make it work and sold it back to Hendrickson. Sipe did, however, make a vital contribution to the Liberty: he put in Movie Tone equipment, which gave the audience its first experiences with Talking Pictures. (Note: Hendrickson took the equipment out whenever he took over again, much to Mr. Stanley’s delight because, apparently, the equipment was difficult to use.)

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Circa 1928. Left to right: S.L. Martin; George Hendrickson; E.W. Fountain; J.H. Coker. 

In 1935, Hendrickson sold one-half interest in the Liberty to Wilby Kincey Theatres, Corp, and that company completely remodeled, turning the Liberty Theater into “one of the finest movie houses in South Carolina.” After World War II, Hendrickson sold out completely to a Marine named Sam Irvin. This took place on January 1, 1948, and according to Mr. Stanley, Sam Irvin “was 100% O.K.” with Stanley and the rest of the employees at the Liberty.  Irvin being “an ambitious fellow,” he opened a second theater called the Darlington Theater.

There is no record of when exactly the Liberty Theater closed, but it was torn down in January, 1965. No one has been able to determine when the Darlington Theater closed, either.  But still, it’s nice to remember when.

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Man climbing up Liberty Theater. A publicity stunt for the release of a movie. Date unknown.

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SPOTLIGHT ON: John L. Hart

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John L. Hart house

In 1845, a twenty-year-old John L. Hart bought from his brother-in-law Colonel T.c. Law some 491 acres of virgin pine forest. Here he established Hartsville Plantation and thus it was known as late as 1913. The Plantation ran along East Home Avenue to U.S. 15, now known as Fifth Street, which dead-ended on Home Avenue, there being only a pine forest beyond Home Avenue.

Tradition states that with his own hands, John L. Hart helped to fell the trees and build his home. He also built a carriage factory (the town’s first industry), steam-powered sawmill, gristmill, worker’s homes, store, post-office, school (The Academy) and church, Hartsville Baptist Church, now known as First Baptist Church.

The John L. Hart Cottage remains a landmark today. It is the only known structure from John Hart’s plantation in downtown Hartsville.

 

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John L. Hart Store

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FAMOUS DARLINGTON COUNTY RESIDENTS: Buddy Johnson, jazz musician

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Woodrow Wilson “Buddy” Johnson, a renown jazz and New York blues musician, was born in Darlington, SC, on January 10, 1915.  A pianist and bandleader, Buddy performed songs with his sister Ella Johnson.  Among his songs that went into the R&B and pop charts were “Let’s Beat Out Some Love,” “Baby Don’t You Cry,” and, his biggest hit which went all the way to #1 in 1944, “When My Man Comes Home.”  In 1948, Johnson performed at Carnegie Hall, where he played an original blues concerto. Buddy Johnson died on February 9, 1977, of a brain tumor. He is a member of the South Carolina Hall of Fame.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: “The Company Store” and “That Village Isn’t There Anymore”

I found these in the Darlington Cotton Mill files. Mills, particularly Southern cotton mills, have a complicated history, and I’d like to hear more about them from firsthand sources. So if you’ve got information, an anecdote, pictures, songs, poems, or anything else on the subject, please leave a comment and tell us about it.

The Company Store

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